XVIII Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year C—August 4, 2019
Ecc 1:2; 2:21-23; Ps 90; Col3:1-5.9-11; Lk 12:13-21
Rich in Love and not in things
XI Sunday of Pentecost
1Kings 21:1-19; Ps 5; Rm 12:9-18; Lk 16:19-31
Beggars of mercy like Lazarus.
- Give yourself.
The essential message of today’s Gospel is so clear that it does not need a long explanation. “Beware and keep away from all greed, because the life of a man does not depend on his goods”. As Pope Francis asks us, however, it is useful to reflect on the theme of wealth and attachment to the things of the world and to our transient existence on earth. In fact, our earthly life is a pilgrimage that by its nature is a path that, to be fast, must be lived with a growing detachment from things and from the goods of the earth.
The human being always wants more, because he is the image of God, who is always more. He is infinite. God is more not because he has more, but because he gives more to the point of giving himself because he is love and life. If God would act like us, keeping what is his and denying it to us, no one would live and there would be nothing left in the world. Everything is possible because the “more” of God is to give more to his children. One is not what he has, but what he gives.
Seen from the perspective of eternity, the goods of heaven are the ones that really matter. Unfortunately, we are too tied to the earth and to the goods of this world. Owning them seems to give us greater security and tranquility. Slowly we realize this is not the case at all. A serious illness is enough to make one realize that possessing and having does not give health, nor does lengthen life. Everyone, rich or poor, strong or weak, is equal in the face of misfortune and suffers in the same way. At the end of every moral, philosophical and religious evaluation, man comes to the wise, intelligent, realistic and adherent to live consideration that urges us to live and to fight in order not to succumb. We find this summarized in the beautiful passage of today’s reading” Vanity of vanities, says Ooheleth, vanity of vanities. All things are vanity! Here is one who has labored with wisdom and knowledge and skill, and yet to another who has not labored over it, he must leave property. This too is vanity and a great misfortune. For what profit comes to man from all the toil and anxiety of his heart with which he has labored under the sun? All his days’ sorrow and grief are his occupations; even at night, his mind is not at rest. This is also vanity! “
This book of the Old Testament urges us to understand that life does not consist in the things we have. The Gospel (today’s third reading) makes us understand that God is a Father: in addition to life and the means to live, he gives himself to his children. Those who do not recognize him lose their identity and seek it not in what they are, but in what they have. The goods they accumulate become evil and are no longer instruments but the aim of their life. They are idols to which they sacrifice themselves and the others. Instead of creating communion with the Father and with the brothers, they divide him from the Father and from the others. Those who accumulate assets, live badly and badly live their children because they bequeath them to fight … for the inheritance
- Accumulate the Good, not the goods.
Let’s go back to the first reading of the Roman Liturgy, where the writer identifies three forms of vanity: the sterility of the human effort, the fragility of the achieved results and the many abnormalities and injustices of life. In the Gospel Jesus speaks about a rich man satisfied for his wealth to whom it is being said: “You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you”. ( Lk 12;20). This speculator was not very clever. In fact, he had not ”invested” well. The Redeemer doesn’t restrict himself to verify the vanity, the lack of foundation and the uncertainty of material goods. I don’t believe that the Messiah intent is simply to disenchant man making him free from the fascination of ownership. Christ more deeply points out the true way of liberation.” Thus will be for all who store up treasure for themselves but are not rich in what matters to God” ( Lk 12:21). It is the “for oneself” that is wrong and must be substituted with another orientation: “in front of God”.
What does all this mean? I think the explanation is in the verses that follow the ones read in today’s liturgy. Three teachings are visible in those verses. To become rich in front of God means not to fall into the temptation of anxiety if as everything depends on us. To become rich in front of God means to subordinate all – work, goods, and life- to God’s Kingdom. To become rich in front of God means “to give alms”. The “in front of” God becomes “for the others”. To become rich “for oneself” is to become a prisoner of vanity. On the contrary, charity, fraternity and love are values that never fail.
Among the many saints of poverty that have enriched the Church, I’d like to point out two.
The first one is Saint John Maria Vianney, the Saint Cure d’Ars. I’d like to mention him because today is the liturgical memory of this humble and poor pastor. At his time, Ars was a small village of approximately 2000 inhabitants. He, as a disciple in the Third Order of Saint Francis, was a true follower of Saint Francis of Assisi. Rich in the Good he used to donate all his goods to the others. He lived in poverty with an absolute detachment from the goods of the world, and his heart, totally free, opened to all the material and spiritual miseries that came to him. “My secret” he used to say” is very simple: to give all and not to keep anything”. His disengagement from material things made him very attentive towards the poor and above all those of his parish to whom he showed an extreme sensibility treating them “with true tenderness, many cares and, one must say, with respect”. He recommended that we must never disrespect the poor because such disrespect falls on God. When the poor knocked at his door he was happy to be able to say “I’m as poor as you are. Today I’m one of you!” At the end of his life, he used to say ” I’m very happy, I don’t have anything and the good God can call me whenever He likes”. For him, the poor were also the sinners that came to him from all over France. He gave them the charity of the forgiveness of God and of the peace of heart.
The second one is Saint Omobono Tucenghi, saint patron of my dioceses of Cremona. While I beg your pardon for this bit of parochialism, I’d like to say that he is a saint applicable to today’s theme because, from the beginning, the Church has called him “ Father of the Poor”, “consoler of the afflicted”, “ man of peace and peacemaker”, “ good man named and made”. One could object that he is a medieval saint, far away in time. However, I’d like to propose him because he is a meaningful example. This saint from Cremona is the first and only lay people (he was a married merchant) that has been canonized in the Middle Age. At the end of the XII century, it was not easy for a layperson, married, a businessman and not belonging to a royal or noble family, to be proclaimed Saint. Moreover, that was done less than two years after his death on November 13, 1197.
Saint Omobono (Good Man in Italian) Tucenghi had truly paid homage to his name. He was a clever man that had shown great talent in business becoming rich and respected in a time when in Cremona the textile industry was one of the main activity that had made the city wealthy. At the time when, like today, money and commerce were the centers of city life, Omobono combined justice and charity. He made charity a sign of sharing with the spontaneity with which he, because of the continuous contemplation of the Crucifix, learned to testify the value of life as a gift.
His sainthood came from looking at Christ. That made him understand that the money he had earned was not only his but belonged by right to the poor, particularly to the poor children of his town.
He transformed his house in a “welcoming house’ and consecrated himself to the burial of the abandoned dead. His generosity was so well known that still today when a request is exaggerated, we say” I don’t have the money of Saint Omobono”. Tradition says that his money was never-ending making him able to donate continuously.
He died in church at the singing of the Gloria while attending Mass as he used to do every day.
Every year we celebrate the feast of Transfiguration. This year it will be on August 6th.
Christ’s Transfiguration is well known. On the transfigured face of Jesus, who had ascended Mount Tabor with Peter and James, shone a ray of the divine light He was keeping in his soul. This same light shone again on Christ’s face on the day of the Resurrection. For this reason, Transfiguration is an anticipation of the Pascal mystery. Transfiguration invites us to open the eyes of the heart over the mystery of God’s light present in the whole history of liberation. We must contemplate the Lord with eyes of faith as Pope Francis’ encyclical Lumen Fidei teaches. Poor eyes of faith that look at Christ, poor on the Cross, so that we can look at the Father and at the world as He does. (Lumen Fidei, 56)
Our transfiguration is a gift and an assignment. We have an example of it in the Consecrated Virgins who with their life are called to be special witnesses of the Presence of God who is light and gives light.
The virgin remains a witness of a divine presence.
The Virgins have committed themselves to live the participation in Christ’s mystery in body and in spirit. From this comes the fact that the virgin is a constant demonstration of the transfiguring divine presence in the world. The necessity of consecrated virginity is born from here. We cannot oppose tomorrow’s sky to today’s earth; the world is one, there are no two worlds. The world is only one but for us who do not live yet a human transfiguration, the divine world stays hidden. We believe in it but it remains hidden. However, in some way, the Virgins reveal it and in their poverty of life, they are ‘rich” of God. “It is in You that they have all because it is You that they prefer to all” (Rite of the Consecration of the Virgins; at the end of the solemn prayer of consecration). Christ’s poverty was fundamental, continuous and wanted “On his naked body on the Cross the signs of his love were visible and readable for all” ( Primo Mazzolari, The Way of the Cross of the Poor, Rome 1977). We can be enriched by this love if we become poor and ask for it, as it is testified by the Consecrated Virgins.
An almost patristic reading
The homage of Benedict XVI to the poverty of Saint Francis
“It was April 1207 in an Italy full of sun. It was the month in which Saint Francis of Assisi had been disinherited and repudiated by his father. He didn’t have anything anymore. Not even the dress he was wearing was his. However, he had something that nobody could take away from him. It had the love of God to whom he could say” Father” in a totally new way”. He knew that this was more than to have the entire world. His heart was full of great joy and singing he was walking through the Umbrian woods.
While Saint Francis was going by Gubbio, suddenly from the forest came two bandits who wanted to rob him. Surprised by his look they asked,” Who are you?” He answered,” I’m the herald of the Great King”.
Francis of Assisi was not a priest but remained a deacon his all life. What he said however in that moment is a profound description of what is and what should be a priest: he is the herald of the Great King and the announcer of God’s lordship that must expand into the heart of every man and of the entire world.
The herald will go along his way not always singing. Sometimes he will because the good God gives to the priest moments in which with surprise and joy, he recognizes the great assignment that God had given to him. However, against this herald come the bandits that don’t like the announcement. They are the uninterested ones who don’t ever have time for God, those who if God would call them, would always have something else to do. Then come the ones who say that there is no need to build churches but houses, and to whom it is however right that movie theaters and other places of amusement are built.’ (From Volume 12 of the Opera Omnia of Joseph Ratzinger)